The term “duct tape” is misleading in that it’s not just one kind of tape (and, ironically, the majority aren’t recommended for HVAC systems). The term generally applies to a classification of pressure-sensitive tapes constructed in three layers: polyethylene (plastic), scrim (mesh fabric) and rubberized adhesive. But the quality, thickness (measured in mils — 1 mil = 1/1,000 in.), adhesion level and tensile strength vary widely, as do the specific recommended uses for each sub-category. Knowing which tapes to grab for which jobs will ensure your fix doesn’t fail and can save you time, money and a lot of space in your toolbox. Here’s a rundown.
General Purpose Duct Tapes
Typical Thickness: 6-9 mils
This category covers a range of duct tapes, from the DIY junk-drawer tool for everyday household repairs to pro grade duct tapes that offer slightly thicker polyethylene, stronger adhesive qualities and, in some cases, waterproof backing. General purpose utility tapes have excellent bang for your buck and offer basic performance levels for jobs around the house (like sealing boxes, patching a grill cover or mending a plastic garden tool) or light duty pro applications in which an abundance of tape will be used and discarded in a short time (like hanging poly-sheeting or moisture barriers and bundling jobsite materials to be scrapped). Manufactured in a wide array of colors, they can also come in handy for labeling and color-coding. Because these tapes generally aren’t designed to stick to rough surfaces or withstand extreme fluctuations in temperatures, they’re best in lower-demand applications when you need a lot of tape at a value price. Bottom line: Handy for DIY home projects or light duty patching and bundling for pros on the job site.
Heavy Duty Duct Tapes
Typical Thickness: 10-17 mils
Unlike general purpose tapes, heavy duty duct tapes are formulated with superior adhesive, extra-thick polyethylene and an interwoven fabric scrim that has high tensile strength—but they’re still easy enough to tear by hand, which makes them ideal for fast repairs on the job. They can adhere to a variety of rough (and in some cases dirty) surfaces like brick, concrete, metal, wood and vinyl siding without the corners peeling up. Many offer UV resistance so that sunlight won’t impact their performance over time, and they can stand up to extreme temperature ranges and weather conditions. These are aggressive, highly versatile tapes for on-the-job tasks like attaching plastic sheeting to exterior surfaces, securing power cables and other tripping hazards on dirty floors or bundling construction materials. As a bonus, they can save the day in unexpected worksite mishaps — mending a broken tool handle, sealing a cracked wet/dry vacuum cleaner hose, or even patching a hole in your work boot or a torn truck seat. Bottom line: Every tradesperson should keep at least one roll of heavy duty duct tape in the toolbox — and multiple widths or colors won’t hurt.
Clear Repair Tapes
Typical Thickness: Approx. 7 mils
Clear repair tapes are not technically duct tapes in construction, but they offer similar performance and application, so it’s natural to compare them. Plus, they’re valuable tools for pros. Designed primarily for non-porous surfaces like glass, fiberglass or plastic, these tapes have long-lasting, airtight holding power, are waterproof and UV-resistant and, most importantly, allow the surface underneath to show through. That makes them ideal for repairing cracked cell phones screens, skylights, windows, mirrors and headlights. Bottom line: Your go-to tape for airtight, waterproof repairs on any surface that needs to be seen.
Structural Grade Duct Tapes
Typical Thickness: Approx. 17 mils
This is a relatively new category in tape technology. Super-aggressive adhesion and extremely high tensile strength make tapes like this less a tool for mending and patching and rather a quick engineering solution. Structural grade duct tapes are for projects that require intense strength, durability and holding power: think hoisting a heavy tool bucket up scaffolding, towing heavy construction materials short distances, or strapping and securing a heavy tool or appliance for transport. Currently, only one product exists in this category—T-Rex® Brute Force™. One loop of it can hold more than 700 pounds (yes, 700), making it the strongest duct tape on the market. It’s so strong you can’t tear it by hand. For some jobs, it’s even strong enough to take the place of rope or chain (and a roll of Brute Force is significantly lighter and more compact). Bottom line: Job requires a rope or chain? Consider a roll of Brute Force instead.
Steven Wagner is an eight-year veteran of ShurTech® Brands, Wagner currently serves as Category Manager for T-REX® and DIY Tapes. He has played an integral role in the development of the T-Rex® tape brand and has spearheaded advancements in new and innovative tape solutions for the contractor and residential markets. Wagner holds a bachelor’s degree from Capital University and a master’s degree from the University of Akron.